Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

The View from Tamischeira

by Richard Cumyn

The facts are these: in the late 19th century Canadian poet Archibald Lampman and scientist Reginald Fessenden became friends while attending Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ontario. Katherine Waddell worked with Lampman at the Ottawa Post Office and may have been his muse and lover. Henry Norman was a British MP, author, and world traveller. And the Caucasus Mountains in Asia Minor teem with stories from our collective past: myths of floods and conquering armies, battles between religions, heroes who drive the sun’s chariot across the sky.

From these facts, Richard Cumyn has created a fabulous tale. The View from Tamischeira begins like one of Norman’s travel books, recounting a journey he took through the Caucasas mountains in 1902. Norman meets Fessenden, who is seeking evidence that all readings of ancient texts have been wrong and that the Pillars of Hercules that guarded the entrance to Eden were not in Egypt but at the edge of the Caucasus. Fessenden developed the theory over the years in correspondance with Lampman. Now, three years after the poet’s death, Fessenden has set out to prove it.

Cumyn is also writing about the nature of love and desire. The second part of the book is told by Katherine Waddell, who accompanied Fessenden in order to carry some mementos of Lampman to the mountains with which he was so fascinated. She tells of the passion she and Lampman once shared, and how she is swept into a mountain society that appears little changed since the invention of the myths that obsess Fessenden and Lampman. The contrast with the men’s theorizing is compelling. The reader is also swept away into the current of fully lived life and imagination, the wellspring of all our mythologies and our science.

In his acknowledgements, Cumyn says he drew on Mohammed Essad-Bey’s book Twelve Secrets of the Caucasus, among other non-fiction works. I’d say he also owes a debt to Ali and Nino, a classic novel of doomed love between a Muslim and a Christian set in the Caucasus. Essad-Bey appears to be its author, writing as Kurban Said. The facts are unclear, but, as Cumyn shows, facts are often only the starting point for a good story.